by Mickey Smith
Representatives from the Lamoille Housing Partnership and Housing Vermont met with concerned parties in Morristown on Monday, September 24, to ask for help in getting at least one commercial tenant into the ground floor of the proposed renovation project of the former Arthur’s Department Store space on Main Street.
Paul Costello, executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development, facilitated the meeting, explaining the housing development groups were not looking to walk out of this meeting with a signed contract or definitive agreement. Instead, he said, they were looking for some ideas about what could be done to help something move forward in the future.
Nancy Owens, of Housing Vermont, said they have a purchase and sales agreement deadline coming up in November, and while they could extend that agreement again, they are looking for some progress in filling the downstairs or they could “cut our losses” and walk away from the project.
About $4.5 million of the proposed $6 million project has been raised. The most crucial portion of money still needed is the $1.2 million for the approximately 12,000 square foot commercial space on the ground floor. Owens said this could happen through selling or leasing the three commercial spaces on the block. But local developers Howard Manosh and Sonny Demars agreed the $112/square foot price tag or the $12/SF lease price is too high for the current economic climate. Manosh said it is hard to get about $8/SF in the downtown right now.
Pall Spera, the realtor who has the commercial property listed, questioned if Morristown has the economic engine to make the project work. Village Trustee Ed Debor added they would have to cut their costs or find a business that is willing to pay above market rate for the space.
The housing groups estimate they would need a third to a half of the space filled in order to be able to move forward with the project. Owens said they have seen some entrepreneurs who are interested in the space, but nobody yet that has the means to purchase or commit long term to the space.
Another option may be to find someone who would be willing to renovate and manage the commercial space.
Editor’s note: Mickey Smith is a member of the Morristown Selectboard.